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Monday, January 31, 2011

What to Do When You Are Having Problems Worshiping

There are a myriad of answers for this issue, but I will only focus on one area.  Let’s begin by thinking a little differently.

Have you ever ordered fast food from the pictures you see on the restaurant’s display and then were a little taken back when what you received bore very little likeness to the savory dish on the wall?
Sometimes what we expect and what the reality is are two entirely difference things. Sometimes one of the reasons we have trouble worshiping is that what we thought our worship experience should be does not match what really happens.

To get the heart of the matter, we need to answer some basic questions: What determines how we enter worship? What do we expect to happen when we enter the sanctuary to worship on Sunday?
    –An overwhelming experience with the Living God?
   – How do we learn to base our expectation?
   – Past experience?
   – Preconceived ideas of those leading?
   – The situations or arguments from which we left to go to church?

Our expectations, what we believe will happen, greatly influences how we will worship. What do you expect when you walk into worship last Sunday? On what do you base your expectation?

Part of our preparation for corporate worship is faith that the God we worship will hear and receive what we bring. However, if our focus is inward, then we approach worship from what we will 'get out of it' and base our expectations from that viewpoint. Let me give an example.

I remember going to the store with my wife to get Christmas gifts for our children when they were young. We knew what they really wanted and have saved for the occasion, since our income was limited and the option of getting 'anything or everything' wasn't possible. There was a joyful anticipation not only looking for the gift, but thinking about the smiles and giggles of watching them open and play with them.  The reason we got the gifts was not so we would feel good, but for the joy we knew it would bring them.

One of the problems with our personal preparation with worship is that sometimes our primary focus is more like the children looking for the gifts, than the parents giving them. These feelings are not bad, just immature. To the child, the point of Christmas is the gifts. The later demonstrates that the reason gifts were given was for the personal pleasure it brought to the person giving them. Our primary focus in worship must be God, not the feelings, or blessings, but hearing and responding in obedience to Him, so that we are bringing our lives, our will, our emotions, all that we are as a sacrifice before Him.

Our focus can also be revealed by how we describe the activity.  Statements like,  "I'm going to hear _____ preach," or "I'm excited because _______ is leading worship," seem to point more what we might receive than the opportunity of offering our 'sacrifice of praise.’ It is natural to respond to some leaders more than others, but the issue of whether we worship or not should not be governed by others. We are responsible before God to offer Him our worship regardless.

How many times do we think to ourselves or say to others, “I’m so excited because I’m going to spend time worshiping God!” ?  In the Old Testament, the responsibility to worship did not change even when the leadership was not godly.  When Eli was High Priest, his two sons, Hophni and Phineas were responsible for part of the sacrifices that the people of Israel were offering. The condemnation from God, spoken to the young Samuel, was to Eli and his sons, whom he failed to teach and who sinned flagrantly against God. God did not tell the young boy prophet that because the High Priest and his sons were wrong that the people did not need to offer their sacrifices. The people were responsible before God to be obedient and to worship Him regardless who was in charge. The point is this: our focus must be on God, not the leadership on the platform. If you are dependent on a specific person to be able to worship or hear a word from God, then there is a possibility that the focus is more on a person than on God, Himself.

I can remember leading worship at a specific time when I honestly wasn’t to thrilled with the person that was going to be preaching.  I tried to refocus, asked the Lord to help me through this and to help those there to really see Him.  God was faithful. From the lips of this very person I really didn’t want to listen to came an insight from Scripture that was just what I needed at that time.  When God turned my focus back on Him, I was more open to hearing what He had to say.

Another issue is the belief that those in leadership positions are responsible for how well we worship. No to unlike the Olympics, many in the congregation gather listening to the music, songs, sermon and then pronounce their judgment: “Great day, I felt a full 9.6 today. --Or the music was a little off, not enough beat, sermon wasn’t up to par, only got to at 3.5 this morning.”  Whether or not we say it out loud or not, when we think such things we are revealing that our worship is dependent on the good performance of those on the platform more than our obedient response to God’s revelation.

True worship is that obedient response to God’s revealed nature and character. It is a choice we make, not a feeling we have.

Let’s summarize “What to Do When You Are Having Problems Worshiping”
    – Look at your expectations in worship
    – Remember that we are not the focus of worship, but God
    – We are responsible to worship, regardless of the leadership.
    – Worship is a choice to respond in obedience, not a feeling we have.

How can we transform our expectations to those that will be pleasing to God?

This list is by no means exhaustive, but may serve to at least get things started:
1. First, we need to be students of what biblical worship truly is. Then, begin to ask the difficult questions:
2. Are we coming with 'clean hands and pure heart'?  Psalm 24:3-4
3. Have we been reconciled with others; forgiving those who have offend us and asking forgiveness from those we have offended? Matt. 5:23-4; 18
4. Are we approaching worship 'thanking God for what He has done and praising Him for who He is? Psalm 100:3-4
5. Are we being obedient to what God has already commanded us to do?
6. Are we coming to worship focusing more on what we may get out of it, than the joy of pleasing God?
7. Is our focus on those that might be leading or preaching, than on giving to God an obedient response?

As we begin to shift our focus and expectations our experience of worship will take on new depth and meaning and we can begin to address at least one of the problems involved in worship.

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